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Thu, Nov 29, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Brazilian armored car makers find new market

WAR ZONE Faced with flat sales at home, companies like HPC are branching out to the Middle East, where their skill in producing protective vehicles is welcome

AFP , SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

What do US Special Operations Forces generals in Baghdad and senior bankers in Sao Paulo have in common?

Every time they drive to work, running risks of roadside attacks from armed assailants, chances are their lives are being protected by armored vehicles built by the same Brazilian companies.

Those firms -- world leaders thanks to their long experience in countering the frequent risk to motorists in Brazil from armed bandits -- are branching out aggressively into the Middle East as domestic sales flatten.

Indeed, the Iraqi market is proving so profitable that some of the companies have geared up operations to get a bigger slice of the pie.

That is the case for High Protection Group (HPC), a Brazilian-run outfit that has its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, to better bid for US government contracts.

Chief executive officer Mauricio Junot told reporters that by next year, the Middle East region was expected to generate nearly a quarter of the group's total turnover, nearly the same proportion as that raised in Brazil.

"We are saving lives -- that's my goal," Junot said.

He admitted though that the magnitude of danger -- and the corresponding level of armor -- was much, much greater in Iraq than in Brazil.

"We have there in Iraq around 350 cars, but we have 80 to 85 cars that have been destroyed," he said.

"When we send a car to Iraq, we know tomorrow, or in one month, or in three months, this car will be destroyed," he said.

Junot said he recently received a call from a US special forces general in Iraq who thanked him profusely for saving his life in an attack on his HPC-outfitted vehicle. Junot declined to identify the general, citing business confidentiality.

HPC produces many components -- including the ultra-thick reinforced car windows and ultra-resistant carbon fiber panels -- at its two factories in the Sao Paulo suburb of Itaquaquecetuba that employ 170 people.

But, at the urging of US authorities, the company three years ago opened another factory in Jordan to be closer to Iraq, he said.

Most of the employees are Brazilians.

The vehicles fitted there are designed to withstand high-caliber rounds from guns such as AK-47s and low-level explosives.

Such levels of armor are forbidden in Brazil, where handguns are far more common in robberies, and where the military is keen to prevent criminals from getting their hands on vehicles that rival their own assault units.

Fifo Anspach, vice-president of the Abrablin association of armored car makers in Brazil, said: "Brazil has an industry that has greatly developed in the past few years and it exports its own armoring technology, for example for Iraq, where there is a big demand for armored vehicles."

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